Disney Channel, who has built its business on scripted comedies and movies, is venturing into reality with PrankStars, a celebrity-driven hidden-camera series that sounds like CW’s upcoming H8R but with fans instead of haters. The series, whose premiere episode features Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez, Debby Ryan and Mitchel Musso, revolves around unsuspecting tweens and teens who are set up by family members and come face to face with their favorite celebrities “in unpredictable and humorous situations.” PrankStars, produced by Zoo Prods., premieres July 15. Barry Poznick (Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?), John Stevens (Lingo), Charles Steenveld (Family Game Night) and Rick de Oliveira (All-Star Celebrity Treasure Hunt) are exec producing.
SIMON COWELL: My Exclusive Interview; He Reveals America’s ‘The X Factor’ Judges; But Will It Turn Into ‘The ZZZZZZ Factor’?
I’ll have more from my exclusive interview with Simon Cowell later tonight. But, for now, I can report that Cowell has told me all about how he’s been assembling his judge’s panel for his U.S. version of The X Factor which debuts this fall on Fox. “First of all, it’s like casting a dinner party. You’ve got to have people on the panel you get on well with.” But in my opinion this is sounding like the most boring dinner party ever and I wouldn’t bother staying tuned through dessert. Though recently he admitted that the process has shown publicly “complete and utter indecisiveness”, he made it clear to me he has finally decided on his judging panel.
Cowell tells me that in addition to himself and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, the chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group who resigned to join The X Factor panel on Fox (and about whom Simon said “was my No. 1 choice to sit alongside me on the show”), he has made up his mind to bring back Paula Abdul beside him and to add a Brit singer convicted of assault who’s unknown to American audiences, Cheryl Cole. Of course, Cowell was once an unknown here, too. I understand from Cowell that negotiations for Abdul’s deal haven’t even started and that Cole’s deal isn’t quite done yet. And of course, he could change his mind.
But an insider tells me about Cole that “she’s pretty much a shoo-in for for the show” and will be announced as a judge within less than a week. When I asked Simon about “this Cole woman” who began judging on the 5th season of Cowell’s British version of The X Factor which is now in its 8th season, he laughed at my description of her. I opined about how hard it is for UK personalities to click with U.S. audiences. Though she has her own widely imitated catchphrase there telling wannabe contestants they are “really, really luv-erly” in her incomprehensible Newcastle accent and has become a UK tabloid obsession, over here she’ll just be another nobody. (As Jennifer Lopez asked recently, “She is a singer, right?”)
But Cowell responded: “I never think about it as an American or British audience. I genuinely don’t. I think that’s what’s happened on a lot of these shows now is it’s almost like you’ve got to hire well known celebrities to be a judge. And with Cheryl, when I hired her initially, I’d only met her literally once when I offered her the job on [British] X Factor. I thought she was bright, cute, knew what she was talking about, ambitious. And you meet someone special a few times in your life.. And this girl is special. She’s just got a great ability to communicate. Shes a great judge. She’s smart. It’s just a hunch. If people take to her like the British public did, I think she’s going to do really well in America. And Fox was desperate to hire her.”
“Really?” I asked. “I heard there was pushback from Fox.”
“No, absolute opposite,” Cowell claimed. “Mike Darnell and Peter Rice will tell you they wanted her all the time, I showed a tape to Mike Darnell two years ago of a clip I’d shot in England of Cheryl and he said there and then, ‘I’d hire her now for Idol.’ They absolutely fell in love with her. In a way, the deal, it was almost conditional on Cheryl having the gig. They were desperate for her.”
“So,” I said, “wouldn’t it then be expected to have someone quote-unquote famous also on the panel besides you?”
“Yes. Very,” Simon replied. “I’ve always wanted Paula. Always been very vocal about that. I missed her the second she left the show. Always loved working with her even though she can be a pain. And I’ve been consistent about this. I don’t know what it is about her, but I’ve always clicked with her. You just have to get that chemistry, and she’s right. I’ve never found anyone better than her. I think there’s a good chance it will be her. We’ve agreed that we would meet as many people as possible, and now we’re reaching the deadline we’ve got to make the decision soon. But I think she’s got a really good shot.”
But Cowell poo-poo’ed my suggestion that Abdul now may be too overexposed after serving as a judge on American Idol for 8 years and then departing amid a huge outcry from fans who wanted her to stay, and then moving on to headline another TV talent series as lead judge, CBS’s lame and derivative Live to Dance, which debuted in January 2011 only to be canceled after one season. Simon and Abdul are close friends and he made no secret on and off Idol that he didn’t want her to leave and that he disliked her successors, Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres.
Make no mistake: I admire Simon as a consummate showman who knew exactly how to manipulate
The Style Network today held its first upfront presentation since the channel was put under the purview of NBCU’s Lauren Zalaznick following the NBCU-Comcast merger. Style announced it has picked up Big Rich Texas with a 10-episode order. The docu-series, set to premiere in July, explores the ultra-exclusive world at the top of the Dallas social scene. It is produced by Fly on the Wall, with Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan exec producing. Two years ago, the network shot a similar series, Divas and Daughters, about Dallas socialite mothers and daughters. Also announced today are How Do I Look?, a search for the country’s worst fashion offenders hosted by Jeannie Mai, which will premiere in September; and makeover series Glam Fairy, a spinoff of Style’s flagship series Jerseylicious. The Endemol USA show, which follows New Jersey makeup artist Alexa Prisco, will premiere in October. Style also announced a development slate of 10 unscripted series. Here are the descriptions:
N.S. Bienstock is looking to hire a reality TV agent and is calling every midlevel-and-above rep in that specialty to defect. Just one problem: no one wants to work for that nightmare Richard Leibner. The agency still hasn’t recovered from the 2009 loss of alternative TV stand-out Eric Wattenberg to CAA. And, …
In its biggest challenge to Fox’s American Idol (and X Factor), NBC has ordered The Voice of America (working title), a singing competition show from leading reality producers John de Mol (Big Brother) and Mark Burnett (Survivor) and Warner Horizon Television. The show, in which contestants vie for a recording contract, is modeled after the Dutch version of the show (The Voice of Holland), which is the country’s #1 talent competition show in Holland. More from NBC’s release:
Discovery Studios, the production arm of Discovery Communications, has signed a long-term overall deal with veteran reality producer Eddie Barbini of Blue Frog Pictures who will produce series and specials for the studio. Barbini is a three-time Emmy award nominee in the Outstanding Reality Program category for his work on Discovery …
In one of the first series orders for Ben Silverman’s IAC-based company Electus, VH1 has handed out a 10-episode straight-to-series commitment to Mob Wives, a reality series created and executive produced by Jennifer Graziano and produced by Electus and The Weinstein Co. This marks the first collaboration between Silverman and the Weinsteins.
Oxygen Media has picked up a new reality series, Bachelorette Party, with an eight-episode order. The series, which gives brides-to-be an all-access, V.I.P. fantasy weekend with their ”besties” in Las Vegas, was developed by Gavin Polone of Pariah Entertainment and PB&J TV. Bachelorette Party, which starts production immediately, marks the latest unscripted effort …
Fox will premiere new game show Million Dollar Money Drop as a strip during the holidays, airing on Dec. 20, 21, 22 and 23. On the show, based on an UK format, two contestants are given $1 million and have to work together to keep the money by answering multiple-choice …
After a string of smaller cable series and gigs as awards show producer, Mark Burnett is back on network TV with a big adventure competition reality series at ABC. At first blush, the series, titled Expedition Impossible, looks very similar to CBS veteran The Amazing Race with teams of 3 instead of 2. From Expedition Impossible’s official description: “Teams of three will solve problems while racing across deserts, over mountains and through rivers. Each week a new stage of the expedition will be revealed. After ten stunning legs of competition, one team will cross the finish line first to claim victory.” Burnett, who is executive producing the series with Lisa Hennessy, describes it as “an epic Indiana Jones-style experience.”
Spike TV has greenlighted Most Lethal, a new unscripted series that should be a suitable companion to the channel’s popular Deadliest Warrior reality series. In Most Lethal, 12 real-life warriors from the top tiers of special operation forces faceoff in a grueling competition to determine who is the fiercest and …